back. Waaaaaay back to the dinosaur days. All the
way back to…1997. Three whole years ago.
The best brains of technology and business were
feverishly at work chasing the Next Big Thing:
e-commerce. They were young. Brilliant. Talented.
Visionary. And they were going to transform the
world of sales. Profits, while distant, were
inevitable, and inevitably enormous. And amid all
the hype, a 69-year-old (!) businessman took a
careful look, and warned his son (who
happened to be, and still is, one of those
visionaries), “Internet, shminternet.”
Two flavorful words that tell a whole story. A story
born of over 50-years’ experience in selling, and
through that experience, understanding people and
what it takes to turn browsers into buyers. And the
story is simple: the technology may be new, but
signals didn’t change human nature or psychology
or the dynamics of buying and selling,
the printing press didn’t, nor the telegraph, nor
the telephone, nor radio nor television. Buying and
selling have been going on for thousands of years,
and the fundamental sales process, while more
sophisticated, remains essentially the same. Why?
Because communication technology may change, but
people don’t. How come, that 69-year-old guy
wondered, after all those other communications
revolutions, suddenly in the world of the Internet
the old rules no longer apply and buyers have
instantly been transformed into some other kind of
being? He didn’t see any valid reason
why it would happen, didn’t see any process
that would make it happen, didn’t see why it
should happen. And three years later, guess
what? It didn’t.
proof? Look at the flood of red ink and the
barrage of dot-bombs. Listen to the clamor by
investors for profits. See the sudden swell of
articles about customer experience and usability.
Ultimately, just consider the following statistic:
the average conversion rate of browsers to buyers in
the brick and mortal retail world is 48%. Know what
it is on the web? 1.75%. LESS THAN TWO!! SHEESH!!
(Sorry for shouting; I get pretty frustrated about
this.) Gazillions of dollars spent on the Next Big
Thing and the conversion rate is LESS TH... (oops,
sorry) less than two percent.
that very smart 69-year-old guy is now 74 (God bless
him), and his also-smart son Henry Kauftheil happens
to be the president of
a successful Internet incubator focused on
developing businesses that know how to sell in
the real world, know how to translate that to
the web, and are committed to making a profit. As
you humans like to say, "What a concept."
The same year his dad made “Internet, shminternet”
famous -around I.C.E.S. anyway, Henry was
interviewed by The New York Times and said
this about his company: “This is a different kind
of business. [It] is not run by cyber-jockeys.
This is run by merchants.”
are successful over the long term only if they’ve
learned how to work with people. Lots of
people. Kauftheil finds the notion of eyeballs
amusing, and so do I. When was the last time you
sold something to an eyeball? So he talks the
importance of what he laughingly calls ‘pinchable
eyeballs’ - real, identifiable, motivated
buyers and sellers. One of the things the Internet
does best is bring together pinchable folks who have
something to offer and are looking for someone else
who might want it, or who want something and are
looking for someone who might have it. Everybody
benefits. And again, it’s simple.
your business is B2B or B2C, the critical
relationships, even in the age of the Internet, are
still what Kauftheil calls "N2N"
(“nose-to-nose”). Kauftheil is proving what
his dad said three years ago: the web is one of the
best communication systems ever, but that’s all it
is, and if you forget that, you’re in trouble -
especially against a competitor who hasn’t
forgotten, or never bought into the myth that it
would change “everything” in the first place. In
order to sell more, you have to sell
more. Apparently it took somebody from Mars to say
it, and if you get that, you get it all. Learn
how to sell to people. Learn why people buy.
Then you can use any technology you want, or
none at all, and still be successful. Plus
you’ll be lots more successful than your
competitors who are whizzes at the technology but
never learned how to sell. And they’ll never catch
you because they won’t even be asking the right
questions. When their sales go down, or just don’t
go up fast enough, all they’ll ever be able to do
is throw more technology at the problem.
“Internet, Shminternet!” indeed. Think of the
web as a good tool, a great tool, but at the
end of the day, it’s just another tool. Follow
Henry’s dad's advice, and never lose sight of the
fact that sitting at the monitor at the other end of
that T1 is a real person.